Surviving the Inaka: Making Your Own Fun
By Alex Sturmey
While living in a large city before Japan I always managed to find something to do. Just walking out of your house can present you with seventeen arcades, eighty-six restaurants and twelve rollercoasters. The inaka often doesn’t provide the same quantity – my village only had four roller coasters. But, jokes aside, the inaka can be a lot more entertaining then you might think.
Making your own fun takes some adjusting. The fun is never really presented to you and, like with all things in the inaka, you have to go out of your way to find it.
Get in with the locals via language exchanges
Perhaps the biggest stepping stone, especially if, like me, your Japanese skills are questionable, is finding people to do these activities with.
It could be tempting to find a volleyball, paint a red face on it, call it Wilson and then move in together.
But meeting new people isn’t impossible. In my previous post I spoke about learning the language in the inaka. Simply setting up exchanges with locals, or joining community Japanese classes offer great opportunities to meet new people. It can even be as simple as taking a Japanese study book to a nearby bar on a Friday night and striking up a conversation with the people around you.
Go to the many matsuris
On several occasions when visiting a local matsuri with some friends, we were pulled over to a table of people who poured us drinks, helped us string together Japanese sentences, and only told us we were eating fish eggs after we had finished a plate of them. If you’re up for the challenge, finding out how to participate in these matsuri is an excellent source of entertainment.
Take up a new hobby
Many hobbies are either native to the inaka or thrive in the scenery, so taking full advantage of your situation is a great way to create your own fun. If you have a strange fascination – even after your friends held the fifth intervention – with kanji, then calligraphy is a worthwhile hobby to take up. Local shrines and village groups organize these classes, and they’re very interesting and cheap to get into. A calligraphy kit can set you back as little as ¥1,000. Hobbies and activities in the inaka aren’t crowded nor are they expensive.
Between the screaming cicadas that fly into you and the wasps that look like they can lift weights with their wings, the outside might seem like a scary place. I assumed my local insect population held meetings to discuss new ways to dive-bomb my face, giving points to the most frightening approach. That being said, the outside is actually really fun.
The true magic of the inaka comes alive outside. You’re surrounded by a host of different outdoor activities, secluded hiking trails and relentlessly spectacular mountain views.
When visiting an ALT friend, she said she was excited to show me her new hobby. She produced some large boots, a raincoat and a small bag of worms. I assumed the next logical step would be my friends and family describing me on the evening news.
As it turned out, her village was famous for fishing.
She got into it by accidentally bumping into an elderly couple while on a run down by the river. They took her under their wing to teach her fishing.
Discover the secrets of the inaka
One of the best ways to have fun in the inaka is to exploit the opportunity you have been given of actually living there. Take advantage of the local onsens that people will travel across the country for. With some clever thinking, some paint, and a big bathtub, you could even convert your own living room into a “unique and rustic” hot spring bath.
Going to shrines is also an excellent chance for you to immerse yourself within Japanese culture. Not only are inaka shrines less crowded than their city counterparts, they often have a much more unique atmosphere to them.
Many villages will also have local specialities. A friend’s village near Nagoya was famous for its calligraphy, while another had a fish paste that was sent to the emperor each year. I was disappointed the two activities never found a way to combine. My area’s local specialised food was natto, and you could get involved in the local process of making it.
Hopefully these tips will help you avoid boredom and loneliness in the inaka, and take advantage of what it has to offer. Have fun!
This is Part 3 of Alex’s six-part “Surviving the Inaka” series. To read more:
- Part 1: Dealing with foreigner celebrity status
- Part 2: Learning Japanese
- Part 3: Making your own fun
- Part 4: Teaching in a countryside classroom
- Part 5: The best and worst things about living in rural Japan
- Part 6: Leaving the countryside for the city
Do you live in the inaka and recognize some of these experiences? Got a question for Alex or want him to cover something he hasn’t yet? Let us know in the comments!